Students at Mineola High School held a sunrise vigil Thursday to mourn Christian Melendez, a popular student-athlete who Nassau County Police said was pronounced dead on Christmas Eve from injuries suffered in a Dec. 21 automobile crash in Williston Park.
Melendez, 18-year-old senior co-captain of the boys soccer team, was a passenger in a 2001 Mitsubishi Montero that ended up partly submerged in water and partway on an embankment in the sump at Willis Avenue and Center Street, said Williston Park Fire Chief John Perro Jr. Police said at the time that the three people in the car were hospitalized after the 10:40 p.m. crash. The driver and another passenger suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. On Wednesday, police released Melendez’s name as the fatality for the first time.
“He was one of the best teammates that you could ask for,” Melendez’s co-captain, Manny Mirao, said Wednesday. “He would always try and find a way to make you laugh, no matter what was going on.”
Mineola High School provided grief counselors for students returning to class Wednesday from winter break, principal Whittney Smith said. A wake was held Wednesday afternoon at the Faith Baptist Church in Hempstead. A funeral procession will leave from Mineola High School at noon Thursday, followed by burial in Nassau Knolls Cemetery in Port Washington. A soccer game featuring current members of the team and alumni who competed with Melendez will be played afterward at Mineola High School.
“It was tough for the kids and for the staff,” said Mineola social studies teacher Paul Pereira, who coached Melendez for his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons. “For some of the staff, they were starting to wrap their heads around it because they had not been in touch with people at school, so it really was the first that they were hearing of it or dealing with it . . . It’s going to be a tough year. Milestones were coming up — prom, graduation, senior awards, and all those rites of passages — and this class will go through those with a heavy heart. I think that’s going to sink in — It’s going to be a long haul for these students and those of us who were closest to Christian.”
Melendez took great pride in his captainship and was always happy, Pereira said.
“He was always seen smiling. It was as if he was in a perpetual good mood,” Pereira said. “He would always laugh at himself and always made others laugh around him. He had a very wide circle of friends, from his soccer family and his teammates to the kids in his classes and to the wider community.”
Melendez was planning to play soccer in the fall at Nassau Community College, Pereira said.
“He was a very determined student and player,” said current Mineola coach Al Cavalluzzo. “He was very easy to coach . . . He really bought into the notion of his team being like his family.”
Success on the soccer field came quickly for Melendez. After being called up to the varsity late in his freshman season, he scored the winning goal, in overtime, in a playoff game.
“He was quick, fast, and tough to keep up with,” Pereira said. “He was one of those kids who loved to score or have the pressure on him.”
Pereira said Melendez was beloved by teammates and opponents alike, adding that players from Wheatley and Carle Place, two of Mineola’s chief rivals, have reached out to Pereira to express their sympathies.
“He had friends across town boundaries and school district boundaries,” Pereira said.
With Ellen Yan